Buddhism in the Philippines

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The Main Altar of a Buddhist Temple in Masangkay Street, Tondo, Manila.
Shingon Buddhist Service at the Heiwa Kannon Shrine in Clark Field, Pampanga, October 2003

Buddhism is a minor religion in the Philippines. Loanwords with Buddhist context appear in languages of the Philippines.[1][2] Archaeological finds include Buddhist artifacts.[3][4] The style are of Vajrayana influence.[5][6] The Buddhist population of the Philippines is 46,558 according to the 2010 Census.[7][8][9].


The Agusan image at the collections of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

No written record exists about the early Buddhism in the Philippines. The recent archaeological discoveries and the few scant references in the other nations's historical records can tell, however, about the existence of Buddhism from the 9th century onward in the islands. These records mention the independent states that comprise the Philippines and which show that they were not united as one country in the early days.

The Philippines' early states must have become the tributary states of the powerful Buddhist Srivijaya empire that controlled the trade and its sea routes from the 6th century to the 13th century in Southeast Asia.[citation needed] The states's trade contacts with the empire long before or in the 9th century must have served as the conduit for introducing Vajrayana Buddhism to the islands.[citation needed]

Both Srivijaya empire in Sumatra and Majapahit empire in Java were unknown in history until 1918 when the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient's George Coedes postulated their existence because they had been mentioned in the records of the Chinese Tang and Sung imperial dynasties. Ji Ying, a Chinese monk and scholar, stayed in Sumatra from 687 to 689 on his way to India. He wrote on the Srivijaya's splendour, "Buddhism was flourishing throughout the islands of Southeast Asia. Many of the kings and the chieftains in the islands in the southern seas admire and believe in Buddhism, and their hearts are set on accumulating good action."

Both empires replaced their early Theravada Buddhist religion with Vajrayana Buddhism in the 7th century.[10]

The Srivijaya empire flourished as a Buddhist cultural centre over 600 years from 650 to 1377 in Palembang, Sumatra. Built as a mandala on a hill from 770 to 825 in central Java, the Borobodur stands today as the living testament of the Srivijaya empire's grandeur. Three generations of the Sailendra kings built the temple that displays a three-dimensional view of the Vajrayana Buddhist cosmology. Later on, the Javanese Majapahit empire took control over the Srivijaya and became the leading Buddhist cultural centre from 1292 to 1478 in Southeast Asia.

Ritual practice rather than meditation makes Vajrayana Buddhism distinct from the other forms of Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism was also known as Tantric Buddhism and Mantrayana, the esoteric teaching, which was conveyed only by a master to a disciple through initiation or empowerment. Vajrayana means Adamantine Vehicle or Diamond Vehicle that shows the way to awaken the Enlightenment. Mantrayana comes from the word mantra, which means words (incantation, spell, oath) of special vibrations. Mantrayana makes use of upaya or skillful means, such as the mantra and the mandala. They serve as aids to mind cultivation.

The Mantrayana practitioner visualizes the mind as a mandala that expresses the mind's innate nature as the ahistorical Buddha or Enlightenment, which means the Absolute in its emptiness and which has no beginning and no end. he mind is its sacred dwelling place. The Mantrayana practitioner sees her/himself as divine because, according to the Mahayana Buddhist perspective, their mind has been endowed with the ahistorical Buddha or Enlightenment nature. It is also known as the Dharma nature, the eternal law that governs the universe.

Archaeological evidence[edit]

The Philippines's archaeological finds include a few of Buddhist artifacts, most of them dated to the 9th century. The artifacts reflect the iconography of the Srivijaya empire's Vajrayana Buddhism and its influences on the Philippines's early states. The artifacts's distinct features point to their production in the islands and they hint at the artisans's or goldsmiths's knowledge of the Buddhist culture and the Buddhist literature because the artisans have made these unique works of Buddhist art. The artifacts imply also the presence of the Buddhist believers in the places where these artifacts turned up.[citation needed] These places extended from the Agusan-Surigao area in Mindanao island to Cebu, Palawan, and Luzon islands. Hence, Vajrayana Buddhism must have spread far and wide throughout the archipelago.[citation needed]

In 1225, China's Zhao Rugua, a superintendent of maritime trade in Fukien province wrote the book entitled Zhu Fan Zhi (Chinese: 諸番志; literally: '"Account of the Various Barbarians"') in which he described trade with a country called Ma-i in the island of Mindoro in Luzon,(pronounced "Ma-yi") which was a prehispanic Philippine state. In it he said:

The country of Mai is to the north of Borneo. The natives live in large villages on the opposite banks of a stream and cover themselves with a cloth like a sheet or hide their bodies with a loin cloth. There are metal images of Buddhas of unknown origin scattered about in the tangled wilds.


"The gentleness of Tagalog customs that the first Spaniards found, very different from those of other provinces of the same race and in Luzon itself, can very well be the effect of Buddhism "There are copper Buddha's" images.


The gold statue of the deity Tara is the most significant Buddhist artifact. In the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, Tara symbolizes the Absolute in its emptiness as the wisdom heart's essence that finds its expression through love and through compassion. The Vajrayana tradition also tells about the outpouring of the human heart's compassion that manifests Tara and about the fascinating story of the Bodhisattva of Compassion shedding a tear out of pity for the suffering of all sentient beings when he hears their cries. The tear created a lake where a lotus flower emerges. It bears Tara who relieves their sorrow and their pain.

The Golden Tara was discovered in 1918 in Esperanza, Agusan and it has been kept in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois since the 1920s. Henry Otley Beyer, the Philippines's pioneer anthropologist-archaeologist, and some experts have agreed on its identity and have dated it to belong within 900-950 CE, which covers the Sailendra period of the Srivijaya empire. They can not place, however, the Golden Tara's provenance because it has distinct features.

In the archipelago that was to become the Philippines, the statues of the Hindu gods were hidden to prevent their destruction by a religion which destroyed all cult images. One statue, a "Golden Tara", a 4-pound gold statue of a Hindu-Malayan goddess, was found in Mindanao in 1917. The statue, denoted the Agusan Image, is now in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. The image is that of a Hindu-Malayan female deity, seated cross-legged. It is made of "twenty-one carat gold and weighs nearly four pounds." It has a richly ornamented headdress and many ornaments in the arms and other parts of the body. Scholars date it to the late 13th or early 14th century. It was made by local artists, perhaps copying from an imported Javanese model. The gold that was used was from this area, since Javanese miners were known to have been engaged in gold mining in Butuan at this time.

The existence of these gold mines, this artefact and the presence of "foreigners" proves the existence of some foreign trade, gold as element in the barter economy, and of cultural and social contact between the natives and "foreigners." As previously stated, this statue is not in The Philippines. Louise Adriana Wood (whose husband, Leonard Wood, was military-governor of the Moro Province in 1903-1906 and governor general in 1921-1927) raised funds for its purchase by the Chicago Museum of Natural History. It is now on display in that museum's Gold Room.

Buddhist expansion throughout Asia.

According to Prof. Beyer, considered the "Father of Philippine Anthropology and Archaeology", a woman in 1917 found it on the left bank of the Wawa River near Esperanza, Agusan, projecting from the silt in a ravine after a storm and flood. From her hands it passed into those of Bias Baklagon, a local government official. Shortly after, ownership passed to the Agusan Coconut Company, to whom Baklagon owed a considerable debt. Mrs. Wood bought it from the coconut company.

A golden statuette of the Hindu-Buddhist goddess Kinnara found in an archeological dig in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur. The Philippines's archaeological finds include many ancient gold artifacts. Most of them have been dated to belong to the 9th century iconography of the Srivijaya empire. The artifacts's distinct features point to their production in the islands. It is probable that they were made locally because archaeologist Peter Bellwood discovered the existence of an ancient goldsmith's shop that made the 20-centuries-old lingling-o, or omega-shaped gold ornaments in Batanes.[13] Archaeological finds include Buddhist artifacts.[14][15] The style are of Vajrayana influence.[16][6]

The other finds are the garuda, the mythical bird that has been common to Buddhism and Hinduism, and several Padmapani images. Padmapani has been also known as Avalokitesvara, the enlightened being or Bodhisattva of Compassion.[17]

Surviving Buddhist images and sculptures are primarily found in and at Tabon Cave.[18] Recent research conducted by Philip Maise has included the discovery of giant sculptures, has also discovered what he believes to be cave paintings within the burial chambers in the caves depicting the Journey to the West.[19]

Example of what Maise believes to be a cave painting depicting Manjusri, in Tabon Caves in Palawan.

Several schools of Buddhism are present in the Philippines. There are Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist temples as well as Theravada followers, lay organizations, meditation centers and groups, such as Pure Land Buddhism, Soka Gakkai International which is an international Nichiren Buddhist organization founded in Japan.[20] The Maha Bodhi Society's Zen circle was founded in October 1998.[21]


  1. ^ Virgilio S. Almario, UP Diksunaryong Filipino
  2. ^ Khatnani, Sunita (11 October 2009). "The Indian in the Filipino". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on 21 June 2015. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  3. ^ Jesus Peralta, "Prehistoric Gold Ornaments CB Philippines," Arts of Asia, 1981, 4:54-60
  4. ^ Art Exhibit: Philippines' 'Gold of Ancestors' in Newsweek.
  5. ^ Laszlo Legeza, "Tantric Elements in Pre-Hispanic Gold Art," Arts of Asia, 1988, 4:129-133.
  6. ^ a b Camperspoint: History of Palawan Archived 15 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 27 August 2008.
  7. ^ https://psa.gov.ph/sites/default/files/2015%20PSY%20PDF.pdf
  8. ^ "Buddhism in Philippines, Guide to Philippines Buddhism, Introduction to Philippines Buddhism, Philippines Buddhism Travel". Archived from the original on 20 August 2007.
  9. ^ http://www.globalreligiousfutures.org/countries/philippines/religious_demography#/?affiliations_religion_id=0&affiliations_year=2010
  10. ^ filipinobuddhism (8 November 2014). "Early Buddhism in the Philippines".
  11. ^ Prehispanic Source Materials: for the study of Philippine History" (Published by New Day Publishers, Copyright 1984) Written by William Henry Scott, Page 68.
  12. ^ Rizal, Jose (2000). Political and Historical Writings (Vol. 7). Manila: National Historical Institute.
  13. ^ Khatnani, Sunita (11 October 2009). "The Indian in the Filipino". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on 21 June 2015. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  14. ^ Jesus Peralta, "Prehistoric Gold Ornaments CB Philippines," Arts of Asia, 1981, 4:54-60
  15. ^ Art Exhibit: Philippines' 'Gold of Ancestors' in Newsweek.
  16. ^ Laszlo Legeza, "Tantric Elements in Pre-Hispanic Gold Art," Arts of Asia, 1988, 4:129-133.
  17. ^ https://philippinebuddhism.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/early-buddhism-in-the-philippines/
  18. ^ Camperspoint: History of Palawan Archived 15 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed August 27, 2008.
  19. ^ "'Great Sphinx' Found in Tabon Caves in Palawan". MetroCebu. 12 August 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  20. ^ "Directory of Buddhist Organizations and Temples in the Philippines". Sangha Pinoy. Archived from the original on 20 August 2008. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
  21. ^ The Dharma Wheel, 1:1, 1998 Philippines Centennial Issue


  • Almario, Virgilio S. ed., : UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino. Pasig City: 2001.
  • Concepcion, Samnak P.J., Quest of Zen: Awakening the Wisdom Heart. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4535-6367-0
  • Legeza, Laszlo, "Tantric Elements in Pre-Hispanic Philippines Gold Art," Arts of Asia, July–August 1988, pp. 129–136.
  • Munoz, Paul Michel, Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet: 2006. ISBN 981-4155-67-5
  • Peralta, Jesus, "Prehistoric Gold Ornaments CB Philippines," Arts of Asia, 1981, 4:54–60.
  • Religious Demographic Profile, The PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life. Retrieved 2008.
  • Scott, William Henry, Prehispanic Source Material for the Study of Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1984. ISBN 971-10-0226-4
  • Thomas, Edward J., The Life of the Buddha: As Legend and History. India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2003.